Changing medical idolatries: 4-15-13
Responding to Boston's bombs: 4-17-13

Grace abounds always: 4-16-13

Some years ago I wound up in the odd position of arguing (through his son) with a rabbi that Judaism is a religion of grace. The rabbi was saying it was, instead, a religion that emphasized the need for one to earn God's favor or at least to produce good works.

I may be misrepresenting the rabbi's position slightly, but not much. And I can't go back to ask him because he has since died.

At any rate, I continue to believe that, based on the evidence found in the Hebrew Scriptures, Judaism is a religion that points to the grace of God (as does Christianity).

I was glad over this past weekend to hear a Hebrew Bible scholar affirm my point. He's Frank Yamada, (pictured here) president of McCormick Theological Seminary. Frank was our keynoter for an all-church retreat for my congregation, Second Presbyterian of Kansas City.

Yamada was talking about a pattern we see in stories in the Hebrew scriptures, a pattern in which we see rebellion by people, then judgment by God, then grace by God.

And yet, he said, "people say there's no grace in the Old Testament. But sure enough, there is." In the story of Adam and Eve, for instance, after they've eaten the fruit from the tree of knowledge and received punishment for it they look at themselves "and say, 'Oh, my gosh. We're naked.' And they were ashamed. And God clothes them." Clothing them was an act of grace, as was the fact that God ushered them out of the Garden of Eden so they next would not eat of the tree of life and lose their lives forever.

"This cycle (rebellion, judgment, grace) happens throughout these first 11 chapters of Genesis," Yamada noted.

I'm not suggestng that Judaism doesn't place emphasis on human responsibility to act right and even to try to repair the world. Clearly that is important for Jews, as well as for Christians, Muslims and others.

But I am suggesting that the notion often heard from Christians that God in the Hebrew scriptures is a mean, violent old god without much heart is dead wrong. Grace abounds in that part of the Bible that Christians have long (and to my mind arrogantly) called the Old Testament. Just as grace abounds in the New Testament. Same God, same core character, same willingness to love and offer grace.

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It's clear we live in a therapeutic culture -- one in which we are endlessly asked to analyze our condition and then find resources to fix what's wrong with us. Now an anthropologist has looked at the way Christians who identify as evangelicals think about God as their primary therapist. His thoughts are here. The apparent good news is that God seems not to charge $85 an hour.


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